This article was originally written and published by the South African. Read the article here.
Tito Mboweni was trying hard to balance prudence and long-term thinking in order to deliver a budget speech that will support long-term growth for the country. He remarked:
“Today, I bring you a seed to prove that if we plant anew, we can return to those plum times. Our President has set us on a track of renewal. But today, I will leave the poetry and the singing to the President. I am here to speak about hard facts and figures.”
In a budget with a deficit of about R215 billion, it’s easy to be less than optimistic about the government’s ability to provide on the promises they’ve been made especially in light of the President Ramaphosa’s wildly optimistic State of the Nation Address.
It’s not clear if this is the budget we need or if perhaps this is a budget meant to placate everyone. This is an election year after all. There seems to be a lot of elements to this budget that are more likely to make voters happy than hard-nosed economists.
Jacob Zuma went out of office swinging last year as his personal star plummeted to earth. However not even his announcement of free higher education was enough to save his head nor advance his faction within the ANC.
So it’s probably no surprise that the finance minister has tried his best not to sway the boat. However, the cost of Zuma’s decision on higher education right or wrong is still considerable.
In the new budget, R111.2 billion – or half of the total budget deficit – will be used to assist 2.8m deserving students from poor and working-class backgrounds to attend universities and TVET colleges.
In context, only R30 billion will be spent on building schools and maintaining school infrastructure, while R2.8 billion has been earmarked to replace pit latrines at 2 400 schools across the country. Mboweni added:
“Fully subsidised education and training for the poor is the government’s flagship higher education intervention.”
Compared to 2018
Back in February 2018, shortly after the #FeesMustFall protests, Malusa Gigaba promised that R57 billion would be allocated towards the department of high education and training. His decision was criticised for being “too populist.”
At the time, Gigaba said supporting students is a vital step in “breaking the cycle of poverty and confronting youth unemployment.” Additionally, he aimed that 9m children receive meals at more than 19 000 schools.